Before there was a Zarda Bar-B-Q there were Zarda Drive-Ins; a collection of hamburger stands built by Norbert Zarda, scattered across Kansas City in Merriam, Gladstone and Blue Springs. “Grandpa Norb” instilled a strong and honest work ethic in his three sons Jerry, Mike and Steve, and growing up they could often be found working in one of Grandpa Norb’s carwashes and, of course, the Zarda Drive-Ins. Norb Zarda inspired an entrepreneurial spirit in the boys. In 1976 Jerry and Mike Zarda, after spending time in real estate development in the Ozark hills a few hours south of Kansas City, decided to open the first ever Zarda Bar-B-Q in Blue Springs, Missouri.
Over the years, the boys had learned a thing or two by watching their father smoke meat in his old homemade block pit. They were certain the Ozark hickory from their days in development would be the perfect way to create the flavor they were looking for. Over time, they mastered the smoking process and their ribs, burnt ends and sliced meats, which were quickly becoming serious local favorites. Plus their vinegar and oil coleslaw and mouthwatering baked beans (created from Zarda matriarch Grandma Lucy’s recipe) were beginning to take on a cult following of their own. The youngest brother, Steve Zarda began helping his brothers at the Bar-B-Q. After a few years the brothers decided they needed to open a location on the Kansas side, closer to where the Zarda Family grew up. In June of 1979 the Lenexa location was born.
On opening day there was a line wrapped around the building. From opening day forward, the Lenexa location has never slowed down. Steve says, “You better be ready to work and to work fast if you are at Lenexa when lunch starts!” Business was going equally as well in Blue Springs – in fact, the flagship Zarda location was running out of space. Mike and Jerry scouted a new location along the same highly visible stretch of Missouri Highway 7 and started to build. Once completed, they had doubled their square footage and added what would become a very popular banquet and event space – much like what was built in Lenexa.
Today, Mike and Steve Zarda are as passionate as ever about their Bar-B-Q. And they’ve instilled their work ethic and perfectionism in daughters Suzanne and Jennifer Zarda. Says Jennifer Zarda Binkley, “We have grown up in this business. I wish I had a dollar for every time my grandma, mom or aunt have said, ‘We are not talking business at the dinner table!’” Of course they likely knew it was falling on deaf ears, but they tried. Jennifer continues, “You can’t be taught what it has taken us our entire lives to learn. We hope to continue the legacy begun by our dad and uncles almost 40 years ago – and we’ll keep working to make Zarda the best Bar-B-Q in Kansas City. We owe it to both our families and of course our great customers!”